New rules irk London's historic Thames boatmen ... What's the matter with Henry VIII's rules?

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Since the 16th century, when they ferried King Henry VIII between his riverside palaces, Thames boatmen have plied the waters, fathers passing detailed knowledge of the river to their sons.

Now, a new licensing system designed by the European Union threatens to sweep away centuries of tradition and, the boatmen say, undermine safety.

The system abolishes apprenticeships -- completed by generations of London boatmen -- which last as long as seven years. In its place comes a license that can be obtained in less than half the time.

"After all these centuries, the government has changed a perfectly good system without asking us," said Gary Hancock, as he maneuvered his 400-seat Thames riverboat "Sarpedon" under an arch of Charing Cross Bridge. "We are very angry."

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